30th of May, 2021
At 12:43 a.m. ET, the situation has been updated.
Lars Burgsmüller recalls believing himself at the French Open that he could beat Rafael Nadal on the red clay.
After all, why not?
Burgsmüller, after all, was a highly regarded 29-year-old pro tennis veteran. Outside of tennis, Nadal, who was only 18 at the time, was just beginning to weave a spectacular storey of Grand Slam excellence.
“I figured if I just play my game, I could have a chance,” Burgsmüller reflected on that windy afternoon in late May 2005. “Perhaps I can pull it off.”
No such luck, as you may have predicted.
Burgsmüller, on the other hand, became the solution to a trivia question. He was Rafael Nadal’s first Roland Garros opponent. And Nadal’s first victim on a list that now stands at a perfect 100 when the event gets underway on Sunday.
Since 2005, the globe has changed dramatically. Nadal, on the other hand, is a different storey. If he wins, it will be his 14th title in the sport. That would give him 21, one more than Roger Federer, the most major titles in men’s tennis.
So, would it make Nadal the greatest male tennis player of all time?
I posed that topic to Burgsmüller, who possesses both expertise and a clear head when it comes to tennis.
After retiring three years after that match, Nadal did something rare for a professional athlete: he enrolled in medical school and studied radiology. Dr. Lars Burgsmüller, 45, is now a physician at a hospital in Essen, Germany, where he treats cancer patients.
It’s a far cry from his playing days, when he faced up against and lost to each of the men’s tennis’s “Big Three.”
During our recent video talk, he stated, “They’re all so near.” “It’s too close to call. Over the years, they’ve all been so constant. Each has his unique set of skills.”
He claimed that Nadal suffocated and punished opponents, especially in the French Open, which he described as the most difficult of the big championships due to its slippery and uneven clay surface.
Federer hit so many smooth, quick stiletto wins that losing to him was almost painless.
Novak Djokovic’s game is devoid of flaws.
Burgsmüller regards them as equals. But every year, when the Open comes around, he thinks back fondly on the young Nadal.
He smiled as he remembered the locker room banter from Roland Garros in 2005.
The players were well aware that Nadal, who had established himself on the men’s tour but had missed the French Open due to injury the previous year, was on his way to becoming one of the best. But that meant a player capable of winning a few major titles rather than 20 or more.
Nadal only needed a little more seasoning to break through, according to his peers.
Burgsmüller, who was rated No. 96 at the time, remarked, “I didn’t want to listen to that too much.” “I tried to stick to my strategy and play my game.”
That means launching a full-fledged assault.
He gave it his best shot, but he immediately realised that playing Nadal was unlike anything he’d ever done before. He’d never faced somebody with such zeal before. Or anyone who can hit with so much topspin. Or anyone who can dash across a clay court, slip and stay balanced, and return scorching responses with balls.
Burgsmüller felt he had won a point with a winning shot after another, only to have Nadal not only keep the point alive but also smack back a winner.
Burgsmüller, who was skilled enough as a pro to win about $2 million in prize money, stated, “Pretty early on, I could see he was better than I was.”
The first of Nadal’s 100 Roland Garros titles came fast, with the Spaniard extending wide for a backhand passing shot that sailed across the net with no rejoinder.
6-1, 7-6, 6-1 in the game, set, and match.
Nadal would cruise through the draw with minimal competition, despite being thinner and baby-faced than the solidly constructed 34-year-old we see now. It was one of the most memorable tennis debuts ever. In the semifinals, he defeated Federer, who was rated No. 1 at the time. He then thrashed his way to victory in the final, raising the champion’s trophy.
Nadal has only lost twice at Roland Garros since that time.
If he defends his title this year, the debate over who is the greatest male tennis player of all time will erupt once more. Tennis in the 2000s was characterised by such bickering, which was dominated not only by the men’s Big Three, but also by Serena Williams, who won 23 Grand Slam titles in the women’s game.
Without a doubt, it can be a fascinating debate. It keeps both fans and pundits interested. It promotes tennis in the same way as comparable arguments promote other sports: Is it LeBron James or Michael Jordan you have? Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
It’s also a load of bullshit.